A freeholder is an elected, part-time legislator at the county level of government. The seven members of the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders are elected at-large to three-year, staggered terms and receive a salary of $29,763. State statutes determine the number of freeholders based on county classification and population.The Board of Chosen Freeholders acts to formulate policy and to provide a check on the powers of the County Executive. It approves all county contracts and gives advice and consent to the County Executive’s appointments of department heads and members of boards and commissions. After receiving the proposed county budget from the County Executive each year, it is the duty of the Freeholder Board to thoroughly review, make appropriate changes, and then vote on the budget.In 2020, two incumbents are running unopposed.
I think one of the most important challenges facing Mercer County is the ongoing effort to balance economic development and continuing to preserve our environment for a sustainable future. Mercer County has a tremendous record of preserving our open spaces either for farmland preservation or for recreational use and we need to continue that effort as we look towards the future. As the County looks to our ongoing effort to modernize Trenton Mercer Airport we need to make sure we are doing so in an environmentally friendly way. The airport will serve as an economic engine for our region and the County can utilize this important resource as a tool to continue to attract businesses that want to make Mercer County their home. The airport allows Mercer County to open our region and brand Mercer County as a destination with our rich history and quality of life.
The County should also take a more prominent role in working with the City of Trenton to drive economic growth. The City has tremendous potential and the County should be partnering with the City as it looks towards revitalization of its community. The County does invest in the City through the Community College but more can and should be done. The stronger our Capital City and region are the better Mercer County will be positioned for prosperity into the future.
I have had numerous opportunities throughout my life that have given me personal and professional experiences that have prepared me to address the challenges facing Mercer County. My background in public finance provides me the opportunity to understand government finance and the decisions that need to be made to balance budgets to continue to keep Mercer County a desirable place to live, work and raise a family. Currently, in my professional life, I am the Chief Strategy Officer of a multi-disciplined engineering company that serves clients throughout America in both the public and private sectors. This experience helps me understand how we balance the need for development while protecting our environment. In addition, this role provides me the opportunity to lead a diverse group of professionals which affords me the ability to manage my team to create a culture of collaboration and inclusion.
Throughout my life, I have always wanted to give back to my community through service in the non-profit sector. Mercer County is fortunate to have so many wonderful community based organizations that provide our residents opportunities to enhance their quality of life and it is important to me to volunteer for such worthy causes. I have been fortunate to serve in leadership positions in a few of these organizations such as the Chairman of the Hamilton Area YMCA for 6 years and most recently, as the President of Nottingham Little League. I have also had the opportunity to serve as the Chairman of Lakeview Child Center and currently hold the position as First Vice President of the New Jersey Association of Counties.
Finally, I have had the opportunity to serve as a County Freeholder for the past 12 years. Throughout my tenure as a Mercer County Freeholder, I have had the opportunity to be part of the team that has in my opinion implemented good public policy while balancing the needs of our community.
I feel that because of my professional, political and personal experiences described above provide me the foundation to hopefully continue in my role as a County legislator.
During the past few years, the Board of Freeholders have implemented public policy that sets aside through our public contracting procurement process opportunities for small, minority, woman and veteran owned business. While this is a new program for Mercer County, it is one that I am extremely proud of because it will afford the opportunity for those businesses to grow and prosper.
From my standpoint, I believe Mercer County is very forward thinking and progressive. Several leadership positions throughout Mercer County have individuals with diverse backgrounds and our Freeholder Board will continue to provide an environment that welcomes diversity and inclusion. It is also important for us to continue our investments in Mercer County Community College in order to provide an education to those individuals who are seeking an opportunity. Education is the foundation for our students/residents so they can achieve the success they so desire as they move through life. The Freeholder Board has record of commitment to our education system that is second to none. We are consistently providing the resources necessary for our students to get an education that is affordable and attainable.
The County of Mercer should be taking a leadership role in combating the impacts of COVID-19. County government is regional by nature and because of our ability to reach regionally we can coordinate efforts for response in a more efficient way. The County provided testing sites during the initial surge of COVID-19 and if an a resurgence comes this fall/winter Mercer County will be able to mobilize pretty quickly based on our prior experience.
In addition, the County provides assistance to those who are the most vulnerable among us. The County through several grant programs assist community based organizations that help those who are food insecure and homebound. We need to make sure that those relationships are nourished and that they have the resources necessary to provide those services.
As with any crisis that come about, all of us can learn from prior occurrences. I am sure that Mercer County can improve on our ability to keep our facilities more assessible to the public and also make sure our employees have the tools they need to perform their respective job functions.
What society has learned is that if we have the technology to engage with others the functions of government can continue. It will be incumbent upon the County to make the necessary investments needed in order for Government to function as efficiently as possible in a remote setting.
As a County legislator, I would look to provide oversight to our County to ensure that our health care providers and fight line workers have the resources they need if a resurgence comes later this year. It will be important to make sure that our health care providers have the collaboration they need to limit the exposure a second round of COVID-19.
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Like all government entities, the immediate challenges both for public safety and financial stability are those posed by the Covid crisis. The public safety cost of our Sheriffs’s office, Health Office, Emergency Office, and Board of Social Service as well as the added cost of the election process needs to be analyzed and accounted for in the budgeting process.
As we move beyond this immediate need, we must focus on balancing short term and long term economic gains with long-term quality of life protections. Our government must continue our progress in support of small business owners as they emerge from the economic damage of Covid and also support major employers such as the hospitals, universities and Fortune 500 companies that reside in Mercer County.
Finally, and as importantly, we must work to close the digital divide and maintain services for many in our community who this crisis exposed as existing in a condition that is more fragile than previously thought.
As a teacher I was exposed to people from every type of community and background, this has given me the ability to recognize needs from a perspective that many people do not even recognize as existing in our society today. This I bring to issues before us.
I served my community on planning boards, site review committees, a local school board. I have served as vice-president of a teacher’s union numbering over nine-hundred members working through contracts, negotiations, working conditions, grievances and various other employee-employer relations. So I understand issues from both the employer and employee sides of the table.
I have worked line by line through twenty-one county budgets. In times of crisis experience and a thorough understanding of county government, as well as the needs of our local municipalities, non-profit agencies and other partners allow for a calm, sensible approach to finding answers that serve Mercer County residents.
We have instituted a small business program to assist minority, women and veterans in accessing work through Mercer. We work closely with the Sheriff’s Office to ensure that training in de-escalation and an understanding of mental health issues is prominent in training practices. Our Mercer County Police Training Academy is a statewide leader in police training, changes supported by the County, will impact generations of police officers across our state.
I have fought for social and environmental justice as it applies to the local municipalities within Mercer and throughout the state-testifying against the overloading of less desirable businesses in neighborhoods in Trenton, for election rights, and creating the Environmental Health Office. Going forward, reducing exposure to lead in older neighborhoods throughout Mercer, an issue I brought to the county level, is an area I seek to continue advancing. Also, increasing access to healthcare, minimizing the digital divide particularly as it impacts job seeking and education, and looking to increase diversity on boards and commissions so that all voices are heard as part of the decision making process will be policies I intend to continue to pursue.
Mercer County was in a better position to weather this crisis than many governmental bodies across the state because of the stability of our long-term budgeting. I spearheaded and supported budgets that funded needed services while maintaining a surplus for use in times of crisis. The health office and Board of Social Services as well as the emergency services offices were appropriately staffed and able to service the residents of Mercer in an effective and efficient manner. At my request we had proactively established paying for postage when residents were voting by mail and so, instead of creating a new system, our clerk was able to expand on the system the County had in place for several years.
Proactive use of partners to establish testing centers, finding PPE, and maintaining constant weekly digital communication throughout this experience was a learning process for all involved, but was highly encouraged byour board. Suggestions by myself and others became part of this weekly messaging.
I expect to examine a report on what was successful and what was lacking and make appropriate changes based on this data. I know we will need to strengthen our digital footprint as we exposed weaknesses in our computer systems throughout the crisis. I am open to reviewing additional needs and adjusting the budget accordingly to maintain long-term flexibility and strength while maintaining a proactive approach to governance.